Any New Yorker (or frequent visitor) knows the deal with new restaurants: You read about them, you get excited, you OpenTable for a reservation, and you find absolutely nothing next Friday night. Or the next Friday. Or the Friday after that. Dining in New York can get discouraging, but it's possible to beat the crowds. Here are 5 tips for getting into that newest, hottest restaurant.
1. Forget about weekends. An industry tip: Weekends are the worst. The staff is stretched thin, the customers who rarely go to bars and restaurants are out on the town, and every restaurant worth going to is crowded beyond belief. Trust us: Try a Tuesday or Wednesday instead. Almost invariably you'll find a less harried staff, a bartender that might actually have time to chat about the cocktail he's making you, and better tables at better times.
2. .... Unless it's the summer. In the summer, take everything we said and reverse it. Sure, it's a cliche, but often, it's true: Manhattan thins out in the summer, at least in the upscale neighborhoods (cough, West Village and SoHo) that tend to house great restaurants. While everyone else is in the Hamptons, you're enjoying New York on a Saturday night. Even better: 3-day weekends. Let others fight bridge-and-tunnel traffic escaping from the city while you take your pick of great local restaurants.
3. Think off hours. Does dining at 6pm feel a tad embarrassing? Just think of it as a really late lunch. Or book a 10pm table and know that your bar visits will be before dinner, not after. Even the most popular restaurants often have free tables outside the prime 7-10pm corridor.
4. The bar? Why not? While many diners are after a table or nothing, the bar can be a great way to dine at a new restaurant -- it's social (chat with the bartenders and your fellow patrons), it's virtually never booked out, and it'll often serve the same menu as the restaurant proper.
5. Or just walk in. Many diners would never walk in to a new NYC restaurant, as they wouldn't expect to find a table. But increasingly, restaurants -- even the same restaurants that tell you they're booked 4 weeks out -- are saving a portion of tables for walk-ins. Give the restaurant a call and see if they set aside walk-in tables, and your chances without a reservation might be just fine.